By Makarios Drousiotis
IN CYPRUS, the view that Moscow has always been the staunchest supporter of the Greek Cypriot cause had become entrenched over several decades. During the last few years, this assertion is no longer considered gospel. Russia, and her local champions now feel the need to defend Moscow’s policy on the Cyprus issue. The book “Russia – Cyprus Relations: A Pragmatic Idealist Perspective” by Costas Melakopides, recently published by Palgrave Macmillan, wholeheartedly serves this purpose.
The author’s primary premise is that “the principles of international law and international ethics predominate” in the policy that Moscow is following in relation to Cyprus (p.9), in contrast to the West, which is undermining the Cypriot state in the interests of Turkey.
Melakopides generously praises Russian ambassador to Nicosia, Stanislav Osadchyi, who, according to the author, speaks in “the solid idiom of Russian diplomacy” (p.99). The author notes with satisfaction the ambassador’s references to the “special warmth” of Cyprus – Russia relations and to the “spiritual values” they are informed by (p.100). In contrast, his references to US ambassador to Nicosia John M. Koenig (2012–2015) are always tongue in cheek: “indefatigable activism […] overconfident and ever-smiling” (p.101), “omnipresent” and “hyperkinetic” (p.106), and sometimes openly hostile “Turkophile” (p.107).
Beyond the book’s style, which removes all pretence of objectivity, the author passes judgment on historical events with no reference to sources. The most important juncture in the international relations of the Republic of Cyprus was the 1974 crisis. Melakopides attempts to skim over the dubious role of the USSR in relation to the Turkish invasion of Cyprus with generalities such as “Moscow reacted [to the Turkish invasion] in tandem with the entire Security Council and the General Assembly” (p.67). In fact, the USSR was the only member of the Security Council which had openly supported the Turkish invasion. The Russian Permanent Representative stated to the Security Council that Turkey had intervened “to defend the Turkish minority on the island, and has stated that this step was taken only when convinced that all peaceful means of resolving the crisis had been exhausted”.
The author notes that during his visit to the island, US Vice President Joe Biden “avoided, throughout his Cyprus visit, to mention even once the ‘T’ word (‘Turkey’)” (p.110). However, the fact that over the 42 years from 1974 until the recent crisis in Russian–Turkish relations, Moscow had not specifically referred to Turkey regarding any aspect of the Cyprus issue seems to elude him. In his attempts to convince his readers of the opposite, Melakopides writes that “in every instance, Soviet commentators described the Turkish army as an occupation force” (p.69) – he cites a single article in Pravda from 1988!
The main axis of Soviet policy vis-a-vis the 1974 Cyprus crisis was Moscow’s proposal for an international conference to discuss the Cyprus issue. The proposal was first submitted on August 20th 1974 and was a pre-emptive Kremlin move, intended to encourage the Greek Cypriots to reject a British invitation to a conference in Geneva aimed at finding a diplomatic solution. The Russian ploy succeeded. Moscow subsequently repeated the proposal for an international conference every time there was any sign of real mobility in peace efforts.
Melakopides writes that the USSR’s proposal for an international conference “was first made in 1982 during the official visit of then president Spyros Kyprianou to Moscow”, and “reiterated in January 1986” (p.70)! Over the eight years from 1974 to Mr. Melakopides’ “first time” in 1982, and over the following eight years until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, Moscow referred to the proposed international conference on a multitude of occasions.
Another important aspect of the Cyprus issue was the US embargo on arms sales to Turkey and Ankara’s response of closing the US bases in Turkey, which were used to monitor the USSR’s nuclear weapons programme. Moscow, taking advantage of the US-Turkey rift, attempted to lure Turkey away from the West. During that period, Turkey was the recipient of the largest amount of foreign aid from the USSR outside the Eastern bloc. That fact alone, which is completely ignored by the author, is sufficient to deny his basic premise – that Moscow follows an idealistic approach on the Cyprus issue – of any credibility.
Putin’s Russia is no different from the Soviet Union in this respect. In October 2014, there was tension between Cyprus and Turkey over the presence of the oil exploration vessel Barbaros in the Cypriot EEZ. During that period, Russia was carrying out naval manoeuvres in the sea between Syria and Cyprus. The manoeuvres were related to developments in Syria, but Russian propaganda in Cyprus presented them as being a show of support for the Nicosia government in its feud with Turkey, a theory uncritically repeated by Melakopides (p.121).
Conveniently, he ignored the position of President Putin. Asked about the matter by reporters in Moscow on November 28th 2014, before his visit to Ankara on December 1st, Putin stated that “neither the Russian state nor the energy ministry is involved in any gas projects in Cyprus. It is up to private companies to deal with the process, if there is one. They need to know that it will be their own responsibility to deal with any crisis and risks there”.
There is a multitude of official positions on the Kremlin’s web site which, according to Mr. Melakopides simplistic criteria, would qualify Mr Putin as a “Turkophile”. But the author, instead of referring to the official Russian positions, attempts to substantiate his suspect theories by citing the views of anti-West journalists in Cyprus which happen to coincide with his own, such as Lazaros Mavros, Savvas Iacovides, Costakis Antoniou and Costas Venizelos.
Apart from references to local newspaper articles, the author also tried to broaden his sources through telephone conversations with Cypriot politicians who share his views: Giorgos Perdikis, Giorgos Lillikas, Erato Markoulli, Giorgos Iacovou and Nicos Katsourides.
A typical example of Melakopides’ unorthodox approach to substantiation was the telephone conversation he had with the leader of the Green Party and deputy, Giorgos Perdikis, immediately after a meeting of the latter with the Russian ambassador in October 2013. Melakopides writes that, on the telephone, he asked the “popular Cypriot politician” if any new Russian positions had arisen from the meeting, which he could reveal in his work. Perdikis replied that his conversation with the ambassador was off the record, and could not be referenced. So Melakopides asked Perdikis whether “the pragmatic idealist interpretation of Russian–Cypriot relations he himself proposed was tenable”. Perdikis, “with his meeting with Mr. Osadchyi apparently reverberating in his mind”, reassured the author that “the pragmatic idealist approach to the bilateral relationship is valid and therefore fully defensible” (p.104).
According to the bizarre methodology of the author, the way in which certain Cypriot politicians perceive Russia-Cyprus relations is given more weight than the official positions of the Russian government. The author bases his conclusions on Perdikis’ perception and ignores what Putin says.
I closely follow developments in Russia-Cyprus relations, and purchase books on the subject which come to my attention. Reading this particular book, I realised it contained references to my person, and to my book “The 1974 Crisis and the Great Powers” (recently published in English under the title “The Cyprus crisis and the Cold War”), the publication of which is called a “scandal” (p.111) and “inexcusable” (p.112)!
Given the author’s complete alignment with the Russian embassy, his report that the Russian Embassy’s written protest against the publication of the book was justified” (p.112) caused me no surprise. What did surprise me was his admission that he had not read my book, but only its introduction (p.111)! That did not prevent him from arriving at a full judgement: “The author had engaged in a frantic attempt to provide half-truths, veritable distortions, and omissions” (p.112). How could the author have reached these conclusions without reading the book? Perhaps he was reproducing what Perdikis or the Russian ambassador had told him.
I paid $95.00 to purchase the book “Russia–Cyprus relations: A Pragmatic Idealist Perspective” in the hope I would broaden my understanding of the subject. I feel cheated because I paid an extortionate amount of money for a work of crude propaganda that any self-respecting academic would have been ashamed to put his name to. Melakopides quite clearly does not belong to this group, as he judges books without reading them.